Spring has sprung in Texas. While Texans know this means beautiful bluebonnets, lots of tree pollen, and some wicked thunderstorms, we also know it means that summer is just around the corner.
In the 21st century, it’s hard to imagine enduring a Texas summer heat wave without air conditioning, but many Texans throughout history did just that.
Nineteenth-century Texas settlers “worked smarter, not harder.” They would split their workday between the cooler morning hours and the cooler evening hours, taking a break in a breezy, shady place in the afternoon, according to Kimberly Prack, coordinator of Nash Farm, a historic farm in Grapevine.
Homes were built to catch the breeze, whether through windows or a dogtrot built between two sections of the house. If limestone was available for building, it would provide more insulation from the heat.
Evaporative cooling preceded air conditioning; a loosely woven damp cloth was placed in the window so air could blow through it and cool the room, Prack explained.
As the 20th century rolled around, air conditioning began to make its way on to the scene in Texas.
In 1912, the First Presbyterian Church in Orange, Texas was the first public building in Texas to have air conditioning. Orange is situated in hot and humid southeast Texas not far from the border with Louisiana. We can imagine the relief of the parishioners as they sat in the beautiful granite building with an opalescent glass dome and enjoyed the cool air.
The building is still a landmark on the National Register of Historic Places and houses an active Presbyterian congregation.
Texas can also boast the first air-conditioned high rise office building in the United States. The Milam Building in San Antonio was completed in 1928 and featured a 300 ton Carrier “Manufactured Weather” system that used chilled water and air handling fans to serve all 21 floors. The temperature was kept at or below 80 degrees and relative humidity of 55 percent.
The building is being completely remodeled by Weston Urban into modern office spaces.
With average summer temperatures from the low to mid-90s, it is no surprise that San Antonio also claims the first fully air-conditioned theater, The Majestic. Built in 1929, the theater is still standing in downtown San Antonio and hosting live theater productions.
Air conditioning in homes became more common in the 1940s with window units being added to existing homes. Friedrich Air Conditioning Co., still located in San Antonio, Texas, was a leader in manufacturing window units for homes.
These days, eighty-seven percent of Americans have air conditioning in their homes. According to the United States Energy Information Administration, Texans expend 18 percent of the energy used by their households for air conditioning.
As the summer approaches and the heat that comes with it, enjoy your climate-controlled home and give thanks for the blessed gift of air conditioning and those who invented it.
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Kim Roberts is a reporter for the Texan in the DFW metroplex area where she has lived for over twenty years. She has a Juris Doctor from Baylor University Law School and a Bachelor's in government from Angelo State University. In her free time, Kim home schools her daughter and coaches high school extemporaneous speaking and apologetics. She has been happily married to her husband for 23 years, has three wonderful children, and two dogs.